The Following is an Excerpt from a Yahoo Group I belong to…and my thoughts on why grammar and spelling are not really good subjects to teach.
Hi Gina (and all),
I feel a little like Copernicus (or Noah)…though I assure you a grandeur-delusion is not in play!
We homeschoolers have so embraced competing with the school systems (and their assumptions) that we drift (or just repeat) all the methods found in schools. Now, there methods aren’t always wrong, but they are always taught with a team of teachers surrounded by lots of students. Didn’t we get out of mass-education schools because we thought there might be a better way?
Here’s my craziness—
1. Grammar is a hindrance to writing, hence it is a hindrance to education.
2. Spelling is mostly an issue of a BAD HABIT.
I’ll write an article on grammar soon, but just check out Rudolf Flesch’s books and articles (this is the guy who brought phonics back from the dead with “Why Johnny Can’t Write.” He also originated the readability scale (Flesch/Kincaid). Flesch rightly points out what they’ve known for years…grammar study hurts writing. The reason is simple—who can write when they are obsessing on correct use of gerunds and participles? This is the nice thing about RC (sorry he added an item for grammar years later), he understands that education is for more dependent on the student absorbing learning than it is for a teacher teaching learning.
Good grammar comes from good reading and good writing and good speaking—period. Good grammar teachers (who ‘don’t hardly ever’ win writing awards) come from studying grammar. Almost no one uses grammar rules in their writing unless they are marginal writers (yes the exception is someone with the personality of an editor…a rare-and-valuable unique character)!
The SPELLING HABIT is addressed below in a note to Lori.
First, on spelling, in our writing course (www.advanced-writing-resources.com ) which we have our own children go through each year; we have incorporated spelling-work into our writing process. I discovered a few years ago that the difference between good spellers and bad spellers is that good spellers NEVER guess. So, we train the children to refuse to guess. The way we pull that off is to allow them to mark any words they are not sure about with an ‘sp’. The ones they mark JODY AND I correct for them! We do this because it trains them not to guess. Of course, any misspellings they make on their own without marking… they have to look up for themselves.
I’m glad you followed up.
Occasionally we do have a child make a ‘commonly misspelled’ list unique to their own challenges…and learn them. Yet, what we’ve found (even with our not-naturally-great spellers) is that they really do learn to spell once they develop the habit of refusing to guess. Now, part of the trick is that when one is committed not not guessing, then he will naturally do one of two things:
1. Find out how to spell the word
2. Pick a different word that he actually knows how to spell
This second point is really crucial because it deepens their flexibility (and speed) in writing. When someone can pick from many words at any moment, well their speed and style pretty dramatically increases. Plus…they don’t misspell (so what if they say ‘secure’ instead of ‘ensconced’!!!)
I still must remind you that this is my own radical design on how to teach spelling, but we see it works as well or better than other system that don’t train a child to QUIT GUESSING. Of course, forgive me, but I’m not a fan of teaching formal grammar to learn to write well either [see me rant: Is English Grammar Really Necessary ?]
Hope this helps,
In a recent conversation about grammar and writing, I made the following point. Hope it is helpful.
In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms that the teaching of formal [traditional] grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing. (pp. 37-38)
Weekly I get a note or a question that sounds like one I received today, “Biggest challenge—being able to correct my student’s writing myself. I know what sounds good, but I am not a writer.” What great honesty, and how common it feels to all who don’t see themselves as writers. If you know what sounds good you are about 80% there already.
Of course, my conviction is that most of the punctuation and grammar training is killer our joy and effectiveness in writing. I feel, sometimes, I’m on a one-man-mission to help people return to the love of writing [you can see my rant against grammar in the article called Why Studying Grammar Hurts Writing].
As a parent you have great motives and surprisingly wonderful insight on your child and his or her writing. Frankly, you taught them to speak…not too shabby for just hanging around and discussing what’s for supper and why the neighbors don’t like you!
Here’s what you can do about correcting a child’s writing:
Well, that’s the idea. You have so much to offer…but really, it is when your child starts correcting him or herself that everything jumps to a new level. In the meantime, you are far more helpful than you think. We even have our own children grade each other from time to time (it’s that helpful)!
Hope this helps,
I started out thinking I might want to explain why all the folks griping about grammar (and punctuation and spelling) on the internet need to relax. Look, I love grammar too (it is so cool to get at meaning / change meaning by looking at how words fit together)…but if your goal is for people to use good grammar, why not use the greatest shortcut available?
The greatest shortcut is our own instinct for language. Here is an example of an article that explain the innate and consistent ‘basics’ of grammar hard-wired into all of us.
It is innate and instinctive…in fact, evolution has a really hard time explaining how a language instinct would ever develop. Pinker even admits that if evolution (gradualism in his view) isn’t true, then there MUST be a GOD! Ockham’s Razor (in my view) also suggests to me that GOD is the answer to this one. He is the simplest explanation. He clearly designed us for communication….which includes grammar, of course.
When students start to discover that they can figure out what is ‘right’ (which means it works / makes sense) with their own internal sense of language–apart from knowing the rules consciously— or they grow a kind of confidence that invites them to see what else can be done with words. Often this same experience blossoms into asking, “I wonder why it works that way?” Getting curious about something one innately knows becomes real motivation that can last a lifetime.
Why not first show a student that he already knows a lot about language…then show him how folks have recorded the rules he already uses?
Of course, reading good material helps us learn in the same way splashing in the water leads to better swimming skills.
Hope this helps,
Dr. Fred Lybrand
P.S. If this was useful, won’t you please share at facebook and twitter to let others know? Thank you!
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